Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fly Fishing Patagonia Argentina: Private Water vs. Public Water

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I was fishing on the Rio Malleo this week, when a guide and his two clients approached me.  I thought this was odd because in all my years fishing the Malleo, no one has ever approached me.  In front of his clients, the guide stated that I was fishing on a private ranch and that I was illegally trespassing.  He asked me to leave.  Before I replied to the guide, I took a look at his clients.  I saw an elderly couple from the USA, who where eager to see me vacate their private water.  I did not reply to the guide directly.  I asked the client, the older gentleman, if he knew what was going on here.  In a distasteful manner, he said, "yes, your fishing on a private ranch... on private water."  I smiled and said, "the ranch is private, but the river that runs through it is not private.... according to Argentine law, all water is public... I have entered this river via a public access point and per the law, I am eligible to walk in and along the river bank, from the high-water mark, 10 meters inland." The guide and his clients did not look amused with my reply.  I think they thought that I would apologize and run off in a hurry.  Rather than engage in an endless argument, and ruin their day, I kindly moved on. Why?  There are +40 miles of public fishing on this river.  Why am I sharing this experience?  

These two American's paid $7,000 USD each to fish private waters, at one of the seven Junin de los Andes based lodges.  I don't blame them for looking down upon me with disgust.  If I paid that much money, I would expect to fish private waters too, and pull +30" Brown Trout out of my ass, on every cast!  The unfortunate factors behind this story:

  • The location the guide brought his clients to is OK, and at this time of year, does not hold trophy fish. Folks, that's over $1,000 USD per day to fish an OK location!  
  • The amount of BS on the web, made by local lodges, global booking agents, fly shops, travel companies, and well recognized national/international fishing organizations, claiming their waters are private, is grotesque.  People are paying big $ for private waters that are legally public. 
  • The guide should have never approached me while I was legally fishing.  He just made things worse for his clients and himself.  

Public Access Signs, Where Did They Go?

Just a few years ago, the waters surrounding Junin de los Andes, were dotted with blue signs that marked public access points.  Rivers like the Malleo, Chimehuin and others, had 2'x2' signs that were clearly visible from a distance.  It is believed that the local fishing/guide association took down the signs.  Why?  Based on my experience/knowledge in the Junin area, the fishing/guide association would prefer you to stay at one of the seven lodges in the area; and of course, fish their 'private' waters.  Also, local independent guides do not like DIY anglers because they do not make $ off them. Now days, you'll see more of the following:

Don't be stupid: you can not access water by cutting across private property.  If you blatantly violate the law, I don't blame private land owners for being upset.  Unfortunately, I am seeing more local Argentina anglers violating the law.  For example, anglers are using spinning gear on fly fishing only rivers.  Regardless of tackle, I see more anglers catching and killing on rivers that are catch and release only.  More hunters are poaching red stag and wild boar on private lands.   
Since all the blue public access signs have been taken down, a safe bet is to access water via a bridge. If you access water via a public access point, in most situations, you can walk-wade for miles and miles... even if the river cuts through private lands.  

Final Word

From my experience, regardless of global location, the issue of private vs. public water boils down to $$$$. Here in Patagonia, it's no different, and unless there is a gun barrel in your face, you have the legal right to fish any/all waters. Since there are gazillion miles of fishable waters in Argentina, the best thing to do when confronted by a guide or land owner, is to move on. And last, if you want to pay less than $1,000 USD per day to fish public waters, give me a shout; we offer multiple guided DIY float and walk-wade fishing programs. 

Thanks for reading and hope to see your in Patagonia.

Abrazos Amigos,